Guardian readers' editor ponders crowdsourcing solution on how to deal with 30,000 complaints a year

The Guardian readers’ editor has revealed that he received 29,551 in the year to March, an increase of 3,000 on the year before. (Picture: Reuters)

In his latest blog, Chris Elliott said that over the same period the newspaper has published 1,022 corrections and the website 2,604.

Elliott told readers that he would like to “improve” on the complaints process but suggested this should not be done by growing his office, and asked whether crowdsourcing could be the answer.

The Guardian, along with The Independent titles, Evening Standard and Financial Times, has not joined the majority of newspapers and magazines in signing up for the Independent Press Standards Organisation, which replaced the Press Complaints Commission regulator in September last year.

In his blog, Elliott suggested the increase in complaints at The Guardian – the first rise in three years, he said – may be down to a larger readership and an increased number of stories, with The Guardian publishing an average of 600 pieces a day.

Elliott also suggested that it may be a result of the title focusing more on investigations and breaking news because of the rise in "'commoditised news', ie those stories that can be got everywhere". He said: "Robust scrutiny of deeply entrenched institutions, public and private, is likely to provoke robust responses. That is not to suggest the Guardian is hurtling along without mistakes; the number of published corrections reflect the space and resources we can devote to them. They are not an accurate picture of the number of errors, or even the number of amendments; sometimes an article is corrected and footnoted to make clear what the error was, but the amendment is not significant enough to warrant an item in the corrections column."

To illustrate the complaints process, Elliott highlighted a 24-hour period between 27 and 28 May in which he received 67 email complaints, including 34 relating to accuracy. Of these, 45 had been resolved by the time of his blog on Monday.

He said: "On that day a tautological phrase produced this email: 'Does the Guardian have any subeditors left? If the use of language is poor how much import should I make of the actual article?' The Guardian was wrong – an error during the editing process but not by a subeditor – and the word changed and a correction published online.

"There has been a growth in the number of deletion requests and queries about moderation decisions. Two areas where it is difficult to resolve complaints are Israel/Palestine and climate change.

"I would like to improve on the numbers of complaints we resolve. I don’t think we can simply expect to grow the size of the readers’ editor’s office every year. What do readers think? Could some form of crowdsourcing be the answer?"

Press Gazette phoned Elliott's office to ask how many people work in the readers' editor's office and to query whether The Guardian will be signing up to IPSO.

The Guardian press office responded: "?On a typical day, the Guardian readers' ?editor?'s office is led by Chris Elliott?, working closely with a senior member of the team who deals with day to day corrections and clarifications.

"?The office is supported by an administrator who helps to sift and sort the many emails, calls and letters that come into the office every day.

"The readers' editor operates against a set of terms of reference which are set out here, and judges complaints against the GNM Editorial Code.  

"Following the closure of the PCC, the Scott Trust further strengthened this? process ?by ?enabling complainants ?to refer decisions ?made by the readers' editor to a?n independent? Review Panel? if feel the complaint has not been fully considered?. It is the decision of the Scott Trust, not the readers' editor, as to whether or not Guardian News & Media joins IPSO or another regulator. However, we continue to maintain a dialogue with ?IPSO, IMPRESS and the Press Recognition Panel as the debate about the Royal Charter press regulation settlement continues."

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